Castle sits in the back of the limo cuddling his daughter. Ellery's thin arms tighten around his neck and he rubs a hand down her back, smoothing out her dress. "You ready to go?"
"All them people is sad."
"Yeah, we're all sad." He nuzzles her cheek, his mouth at her ear. "But Mommy and Dash are already outside, sweet girl."
"At him grave."
"At their graves, yes, baby." He strokes his fingers through her hair until her arms loosen a little bit. "I can carry you the whole time. I won't put you down."
She wriggles against him and sighs. "Okay, Daddy."
"Okay, good, good. My brave little bug." He tugs on the door handle and slides out of the car, Ellery clinging to him. Yesterday she was fine, today she doesn't seem to know how to handle it - and he wonders if it's just the sheer amount of grieving people, if it overwhelms her.
Castle shuts the door quietly and carries Ella towards the tight cluster of mourners just beginning to find their seats. Kate and Dashiell are standing near the back, Kate's fingers combing through their son's hair, the skirt of her black dress fluttering in the wind.
Dashiell got all his sighs and drama out last night, cuddling with his parents, petting his dog, and he stands like a solemn little statue beside Kate, so stiff, formal, such the little man.
"Daddy, it's cold."
He tightens his arms around Ella and kisses her cheek, joining Kate. She gives him a strained smile, lifts a hand to Ellery's back.
Just then a man comes up to them, dark suit, glasses, hand extended. "Excuse me, Detective Beckett?"
Kate turns, an eyebrow lifting. "Yes?"
"I'm Agent Mitchell-"
"Oh, Agent Mitchell," she sighs, shaking his hand. "Good to meet you in person. This is my husband, Richard Castle - you talked to him-"
"Ah, yes, Mr. Castle."
He shakes the man's hand and Ellery turns to look, her arm hooked around his neck.
"I just wanted to let you both know. We've increased our presence in the area, have a couple of cars posted, and agents here on the grounds-"
Kate makes a noise beside him-
"I've worked it out so that the Montgomery children can attend."
"Oh, thank you," Kate sighs, pressing a hand to her forehead, then covering her mouth. Her eyes turn to Castle's and he reaches out, grips her hand.
"Thank you, Agent Mitchell," he says. "Thank you for making this happen."
Agent Mitchell nods, slipping his phone out of his pocket and surreptitiously checking it. "They're on the approach right now. I've got to go."
Ellery leans back from Castle's embrace, her arms out for her mother. Kate takes her, cuddling Ella close to her chest, and Castle shakes the agent's hand.
At least Evan and the girls will be able to say good-bye.
Kate puts her nose into Ellery's neck, breathes in the scent of her little girl - baby shampoo and lavender bubble bath and the wool of her dark grey dress. Ella doesn't understand the ceremony, the people gathered, and Kate lets her stay hunched into her mother, huddled up at her chest, right over her heart.
Dashiell leans his head against her shoulder and she reaches over, strokes through his hair in comfort, and then Castle takes him by the back of the neck, tugs their son into his own lap, the empty chair between them.
Kate wraps her arm around Ellery again, hums softly as the funeral begins. The day is brilliantly blue, the sky wide open just past the minister. Evan sits on the front row with his fiancee, their hands clasped, but his other hand is around his sister, Mary. The other daughter, Rebecca, lists into her sister's side, youngest to oldest in a row.
Kate's glad she can't see their faces, grateful that Ellery is so needy, that the harsh glare of winter sunlight requires sunglasses this morning. Just like Ella hides in her neck, Kate is hiding behind her shades, letting her little girl be her shield.
Evan shifts in his seat and rubs the back of his neck, then leans over, elbows on his knees, and it makes Kate close her eyes, her heart thrumming in her chest. She feels Castle's palm heavy on her shoulder and turns his head to look at him.
He gives her a sad smile, everything in his eyes, and she untangles her hand from Ellery's hair and reaches over Dashiell's head for her husband, makes a fist in his suit jacket and hangs on.
Castle catches her fingers and draws them to his lips, kisses her softly, and then scoots down to sit at her side, no empty chairs between them.
"Daddy, you." Ellery's hands reach for him as they file out, so Castle takes her back from Kate, steadying his daughter as she wraps her arms around his neck. She kisses his cheek and gives him a pouty look under her lashes; he smiles back at her, knows it's a little weak.
Kate's hand squeezes his elbow, slides along his forearm. "I should say something to Evan."
He nods, lifts an eyebrow. "Should I-?"
"No. It's okay. Take Ella to the car; meet you there. Dash, baby, you-"
"I want to go with you," Dashiell mourns, butting his head into her hip.
"Okay, okay. You can come with me. Rick?"
"Sure, I've got her."
He turns back for the limo, but Kate squeezes his forearm, stills him long enough to kiss his cheek. He gives her a look for that, but she just shrugs him off and heads for Evan and the girls.
"Come on, baby girl. Let's-"
A man is approaching slowly, hair dashed with salt and pepper, a well-tailored suit, his coat thrown over his arm in deference to the sunshine. He holds out a hand but Castle tightens his grip on Ellery.
"Do I know you?" he asks, pressing his hand into Ella's back.
"Under different circumstances." The older man's lips thin in something approximating a smile. "Name's Smith."
"I got your note, Mr. Castle."
Note. He got-
Castle slips his hand up to cradle the back of Ellery's head, his heart pounding. "So you approach me at a funeral in front of my kid?"
"I apologize, but you have nothing to fear from me."
"I don't want to have this conversation," Castle says, moving to sidestep the man.
Mr. Smith lifts his hand to keep him there. "Give me a moment of your time. You're going to want to hear this."
Castle stares at the man, nearly his height, and then turns back to the funeral. He spots Kate in the distance, talking with Becca and Mary, and he rubs Ellery's back.
"Hey, baby girl. Can you go catch up to Dash and Mommy?"
He sighs and kisses her cheek, untangles her fingers from his neck. "Cricket, I just need you to run get Mommy." He bends over to let her down, but she clings to him.
"No. Daddy, you promise."
"You promise you not put me down."
Castle straightens up again, opens his mouth, but there's nothing to say to that. "Okay. You're right."
He turns back to the older gentleman, narrows his eyes at the guy.
"Stay right here."
Dash bumps into the back of her knee, breathlessly apologizes, and Kate glances down to see him bury a giggle into her thigh. She frowns, confused but glad he's okay, reaches out to snag her fingers in his collar, stroke the back of his neck. He laughs softly, clutching her skirt, and she excuses herself from Becca to turn to him.
"Dash, honey, what are you doing?"
"I'm sorry. Ella is making faces at me. I know I'm supposed to be sad but she keeps-"
"Hey, baby, no. You can be happy." Kate cups his cheek as she glances around the cemetery for Castle and Ella. She thought they both were heading for the limo. "Uncle Mo would be glad that you're happy."
"Uncle Mo made me jokes. Like the banana joke."
"He did tell you some great jokes." Kate sighs and nudges Dashiell to give him a quick kiss on the cheek.
She feels a wide hand at her back and lifts her head to see Castle and Ellery standing right there. She stands, smiling at Ella, and brushes her nose against her daughter's. "Dash said you were making funny faces. You feeling better, baby girl?"
"Kate," he interrupts, taking her by the arm, his grip practically bruising.
"Castle," she grunts, but lets him turn her around.
"Come with me."
"Dash," she calls back, reaching her hand for him. He comes to her side, skipping a little to keep up and Kate slides her fingers against Castle's waist to gentle him.
Castle jumps violently, and Kate huffs at him, a frown creasing her brow as they come to a stop before an older gentleman, greying hair, expensive suit, shoes shined. Well-presented, a graveness to his face that somehow doesn't reflect the muted grief of the rest of the funeral procession.
Like he's not here for the Montgomerys, not entirely.
"Detective Beckett," he nods.
Castle's fingers tangle with hers and she steps into his side, Dashiell bumping between them. "What's going on?" she asks, her blood running cold at the look on her husband's face.
"I was just offering Mr. Castle a deal."
"No deals," she says, squeezing Castle's hand tighter. The wind plucks at her skirt and swirls cold air around her knees, a shiver starting up her spine. So this is the man who arranged a dead drop at the docks, taunting them with his knowledge.
This is the man.
"You're going to want to hear what I have to say."
She grits her teeth and levels him with a cold look. "We're not interested."
"You haven't heard my offer," the man says.
"I don't need to hear it. This has nothing to do with us anymore." Kate turns to Castle, catches his eye. She hesitates. "But I do know who you should be dealing with."
The man stiffens. "I'm not here-"
"Either you're here to do the right thing or you're not." Kate twists away from them, leaving Castle with the older man while she heads back across the lawn. The brittle crunch of dead grass under her shoes, and its little echo, makes her turn her head.
"You walk too fast, Momma."
Kate presses her mouth together in a smile and holds her hand out for him; Dashiell takes it with a little hop and follows at her side. She goes at a more sedate pace, for him, and finds Agent Mitchell circling the back of the group, ever vigilant.
"There's a man here who has some information the FBI might like to have. About-" she feels the squeeze of her little man's hand in hers and glances down at Dash, then back to Mitchell, "-about all of this."
"Let's go then," he says quietly.
Kate brings Mitchell over to her husband, introduces him to the older man who looks distinctly uncomfortable now.
"Mr. Smith? Agent Mitchell is up to date on this case and he can inform the FBI of whatever you choose to reveal."
"Detective Beckett-" he starts with a growl.
Castle slides his hand into hers. "I told you - no more secret deals, no more shadows. We're done with it."
Agent Mitchell crosses his arms over his chest. "I'm all ears though."
Much as she despises putting her back to this man, Kate turns for the limo, nudging Dashiell out ahead of her, her hand still tight in Castle's. After a few paces, she hears him let out a shaky breath.
"I didn't know. . ."
"I know," she murmurs.
He shifts Ellery to his hip, briefly letting go of Kate's hand to do it, and then takes it back again, bringing her fingers to his lips to kiss.
"Kate, if you want to go back there and hear him out-"
"No," she chokes, shaking her head. Dashiell has already run on to the car, tugged open the back door. He's crawling inside when she gets her voice back. "No. If he wants to do the right thing, then let him do it. You were right, Rick. Secrets and mystery men and blackmail - not the way to do this."
She doesn't know how else to do this though. Chasing this down has only led to death - but what comes after it?
"Kate. When they need our testimony - when they need the evidence - whatever it is. . .you'll be a part of it. I know that. Just not like this."
She turns her face to him, knowing that he knows how much she needs - resolution. And end to it. This is her end though; this-
Her phone goes off; they both jump, Kate letting out a shaky laugh. She dips her fingers into his jacket pocket, slips out her phone to check the screen.
"It's Jordan," she breathes, answers the call. "Jordan?"
"Kate." Her voice is low, barely there.
"Are you okay?"
"Doing better. Just - hurts to breathe. No big deal."
Kate lets out a strangled laugh, lets Castle guide her into the limo. Dashiell pounces on her, clambers over her lap to get at his sister. "I'm glad you're okay."
"I'm so sorry about your Captain. His wife."
"Jordan," she sighs.
"My condolences aren't nearly enough," Jordan continues. "And I got you nothing."
"Jordan, it's over. It's done-"
"We'll see. This is a federal case-" Jordan's words collapse into a fit of coughing and Kate winces.
"Hey, stop. Don't worry about it. You concentrate on getting better."
"I will see this to the end, Beckett."
Kate swipes at her cheeks, feels Castle crowding close to her as the limo starts. "Jordan, don't let it take over your life," she says quietly.
"I won't. This isn't personal, Beckett. This is about what's right."
"Then. . .you might call Agent Mitchell."
The front door shuts hollowly after his kids, leaving just the two of them in the quiet loft. She looks sad.
"Hey, let me take you out," he says softly, brushing his fingers through her hair.
Kate turns to him, surprise flickering across her face, a smile like weak winter sunlight.
"Come on, Kate. We'll go out, just the two of us." He draws an arm around her waist, but only holds her loosely. Her father and Kelly took the kids back to their place to stay for the night - apparently Kelly's grandkids came into town as well and wanted playmates - and maybe this is exactly what they needed.
"Okay," Kate says softly, her face too serious. "Take me out."
"A movie? A play? Dinner? Laser tag?"
Her lips smirk. "Save laser tag for when the kids are back."
"Okay. What then?"
"Something quiet." Kate shivers and steps in closer to him. "With people."
"Quiet and with people. Hmm."
"Tall order, I know."
"I'll figure something out."
She smiles back at him, this time a little more convincingly, and he strokes his fingers under her dark sweater, skims her waist to her spine as he watches her eyes respond to his touch.
"I think I know just the thing."
"Can't do that with people, Castle."
"And you can't do that quietly," he laughs darkly, stepping away. "So not that."
Kate can't help the laugh that bubbles up when their slow stroll through the semi-dark twilight leads them to the corner of Broome and Elizabeth Streets.
"Park Here," she muses, reading the green-stenciled name on the glass window. Through the glass, she can make out a lush, tempting grove - a warm, illuminated oasis in the cold night.
He drapes his arm at her waist. "Pop-up park. Green grass and everything. Tonight is a free screening of His Girl Friday."
"Mm, Cary Grant." Kate bites her lip and casts a smile over at him, laces her fingers through his. "I'm impressed. Quiet with people. You did it."
"Told you I would."
"You're just that good," she murmurs, lets him tug her towards the doors.
The white walls reach upwards into an industrial-warehouse ceiling but grow downwards into a massive photo mural of a green, forested landscape. The floors are laid with grass - an artificial turf that feels natural even beneath her converse shoes - and as far as Kate can see there are potted trees, overgrown jungle plants, and park equipment.
Castle leads her through rooms and rooms of pop-up park and finally to the back where the screen has been set up. A handful of people are back here already, laid out on blankets and chatting quietly before the movie starts. The hammocks have all been claimed, but Castle heads for a massive, lime-green bean bag chair in a discrete corner, pulls her down after him.
The angle has her pitched into his body, so she gives up resisting gravity and curls at his chest, hooking her legs over his thigh. He keeps his feet flat on the floor to give them some stability, and she lifts her head to kiss him softly.
He's smiling back at her, pleased and proud, as the lights dim and fade to nothing, darkness swamping the room. Pinpoints like stars break blink into existence on the deep black of the ceiling, a nightscape for the movie's introduction.
The old film beings to play even as Kate can sense more people shuffling in, filling up the green space, the quiet murmurs of couples and families getting settled around them. Castle wraps his arm tighter around her, his palm heavy and warm at her shoulder blade as his head turns into hers, nuzzling her nose.
She breathes out against his mouth in the darkness, the loud, dueling voices of the two leads onscreen covering Castle's soft grunt. His other hand wraps around her knee, grips her tighter, and his mouth covers hers.
His kiss is intrusive, warm. Intimate. He slides his tongue between her lips and inside, breathing roughly against her cheek, strokes the roof of her mouth. She tightens her arm around his neck, melts into his body as the screen bathes them in grey light.
His fingers stroke the shell of her ear, wander to her neck to tangle in her hair. Their mouths part on a breath, her eyes opening slowly to see his, a hum in her throat.
"You can't be quiet," he murmurs.
"And not in front of people," she adds, sighing. She lays her head back down on his shoulder, her forehead against that rapid pulse in his neck. "Love you, Rick."
His turn to hum and she draws her arms tighter, but the bean bag chair shifts loudly under them. He laughs, someone shushes them, and Kate hides her amusement into his shirt, gripping his sides.
He grunts and laces his fingers through hers. "You too, Kate. Love you too. Just - restrain yourself, woman - you're gonna get us kicked out."
"Wouldn't that be fun."
A/N: Thank you so much to everyone who has embraced the Dash universe, gone along for the ride each and every time, and finally, to those who have just begun it. I plan on writing Dash Companion stories, but this will be the final Epic.